It is Friday night. You and that special person in your life have decided that it has been way too long since you treated yourselves to a nice dinner out. You have a favorite restaurant that you have not been to in years. As you drive up, you realize that the parking lot is packed. You manage to find a parking place near the back of the parking lot, quite a distance from the front door. After you walk by the line of people waiting to be seated, you ask the question that has been on your mind from the moment you saw the crowded parking lot: “How long is the wait?”
The first response from the hostess will ultimately determine your ENTIRE experience in that restaurant for the evening. If she says 30 minutes and you end up only having to wait 25, she is a hero. You are pleasantly surprised. She has exceeded your expectations. Conversely, if she says 20 minutes, you are pleasantly surprised at first. But your pleasure soon turns to disappointment when you have not been seated after 30 min. You have to go up and ask her again and again. When you are seated after 45 minutes, you are saying to each other, “If we had known it was going to be this long, we would have gone somewhere else.” Your server is now going to spend the next ninety minutes trying to overcome your initial bad experience. You may never recover!
Managing expectations may be the most important responsibility that a hostess has. It paints the entire dining experience from the very beginning. It could determine whether the dining guest returns and refers. It is one of the most important first impressions. Keep in mind, it is not the wait time that matters, it is your perception of the wait time.
Contrast a skilled hostess at a fine restaurant who knows how to manage expectations to my experience with one of our local orthopedic surgeons. One of our daughters suffered from several fractured vertebrae last fall as a result of her intense workouts on the high school swim team. On one occasion, we checked into the immense waiting room at the surgeon’s office. After 45 minutes, our daughter started to get restless and said that she really needed to get back home to study for her exams the next day. I went to the receptionist and asked how much longer it would be. She said she would check. Fifteen more minutes with no response, I returned to the front desk and inquired again. A nurse soon came out and reprimanded me by saying that they had no idea how long it would be and that we would just have to wait. “She (the doctor) is an orthopedic surgeon and that is just the way it is. If you want to see her, you’ll just have to wait until she can get to you.” It was almost as if she was telling us that we should feel honored to be in the doctor’s presence. Somehow she had forgotten, or was not aware, of the dozens of choices we have of orthopedic surgeons within five miles of their office. By the time we finally saw the doctor after nearly two hours of waiting, our expectations were so shattered that we could hardly hear anything the doctor said.
Managing expectations is one of the clear points of differentiation between surgeons who get sued and those who don’t. Surgeons who don’t get sued are very good about using “orienting comments” to always manage patients’ expectations. They say things like, “The first thing we are going to do is review your x-rays and MRI results. Then we will do an exam and talk about your treatment options.” In other words, they are good at looking ahead and letting the patient know what he or she can expect next from the experience. That simple information has the power to transform the experience into a positive one.
Every day, in every business, managing expectations is one of the keys to a “yes.” Even if the experience is going to be less that what I originally expected, the use of orienting comments can keep my perceptions positive.
For example, imagine how I felt the other day when I received a phone call about 45 minutes before my scheduled dental appointment. Desiree, the appointment coordinator, greeted me and said, “Mr. Anderson, we have had a patient that needed a little extra care this morning so we are running a little behind. We are going to be able to get started with you about 30 minutes after your scheduled appointment time. Do you have some errands you need to run on your way to our office? We respect your time and want to make sure this works for you. We should be able to have you seated at 1:30 and have you out by 2:30 PM. How does that work for you?”
First, the disappointment of not being seen on time is overshadowed by the advance notice and the demonstration of respect for my time. Managing my expectations results in my being even more enthusiastic about my choice of a dental office. I’m going to tell everyone!
Managing expectations on the front end is just the start of using orienting comments. Their use is important throughout the entire client experience. Even though you go through the same routine with every patient every day, the patient has not had that experience. Let them know what they can expect. The motto in the office should NOT be “no unpleasant surprises.” It should be “No Surprises” at all. If the patient knows what to expect every step along the way, he or she will be more satisfied and more inclined to repeat and refer.
Every day, with every client, customer, patient or whatever you call the people with whom you do business, ask yourself in advance, “What is this person most likely expecting?” How can I manage those expectations to make sure he or she has a positive experience? That one skill may be the only difference between an enthusiastic client who repeats and refers and the person who never returns.